Writing Specific Aims

Identifying Specific Aims

  • Identify a research gap. Can your research move your field forward?
  • Determine the significance of the problem and impact. Is the work important—will progress make a difference to our understanding of neuroscience and/or human health?
  • Is your team experienced and able to carry out the work?

Outlining Specific Aims

  • Step 1: Develop hypotheses that are focused, testable, and important. Note that there is no requirement your work to be hypothesis based however.

  • Step 2: Draft aims that test the hypotheses (if relevant), and are feasible within the grant period.

    • Usually a one-page limit.
    • The aims should be focused easy to assess by reviewers.
    • For many mechanisms, aims should not be interdependent.
       
  • Step 3: Outline experiments and outcomes.

  • Step 4: Determine approximate personnel, resources, and timeline.

  • Step 5: Identify a potential funding institute and funding mechanism.

  • Step 6: Consider potential study sections and expertise of reviewers. 

  • Step 7: Assess feasibility of your proposed work within the proposed funding mechanism.

  • Step 8: Revise aims as needed.

Writing the Specific Aims

Provide a narrative describing the rationale and significance of your planned research. A good way to start is with a sentence that states your project's goals. In some cases, you may want to explain why you did not take an alternative route. State your hypothesis (if relevant) and briefly describe your aims and how they build on your preliminary studies. If it is likely your application will be reviewed by a study section with broad expertise, summarize the status of research in your field and explain how your project fits in. In the narrative part of the Specific Aims of many outstanding applications, people also used their aims to:

  • State the technologies they plan to use.

  • Note their expertise to do a specific task or that of collaborators.

  • Describe past accomplishments related to the project.

  • Describe preliminary studies and new and highly relevant findings in the field.

  • Explain their area's biology.

  • Show how the aims relate to one another.

  • Describe expected outcomes for each aim.

  • Explain how they plan to interpret data from the aim’s efforts.

  • Describe how to address potential pitfalls with contingency plans.

  • Many people use bold or italics to emphasize items they want to bring to the reviewers' attention, such as the hypothesis or rationale.

  • Depending on your situation, decide which items are important for you. For example, an Early-Stage Investigator may want to highlight preliminary data and qualifications to do the work.

After the narrative, enter your aims as stand-alone headers, run-on headers, or bullet points

  • State your plans using strong verbs like identify, define, quantify, establish, determine.

  • Describe each aim in one to three sentences.

  • Consider adding bullets under each aim to refine your objectives.

  • Some people add a closing paragraph, emphasizing the significance of the work, their collaborators, or whatever else they want to focus reviewers' attention on.

It can be useful to have a colleague review your aims for clarity (particularly a colleague outside your field or a colleague with NIH funding or NIH study section experience). 

 

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